Jukebox Homogenization

December 21, 2007 by

The original free jukebox - Picture of The Tyne Bar, Newcastle upon Tyne - TripadvisorAnyone can find three songs to play on any jukebox in their native country. Whether it’s digital, CD or 45, it is a folk art form that’s part mix tape concoction and part DJ mixmastering. There are obvious pitfalls — no one really needs to hear “Sweet Caroline” or “You Shook Me All Night Long” again, right? (DM me on Twitter @360degreesound to debate the various merits of “Free Bird.”) There are many paths one might take to find the right mix: crowd-pleasing hits, obscure album tracks, blasts from left field, guilty pleasures, and don’t forget irony and spite. But of utmost importance is reading the room to keep from detonating a musical land mine. For example, just because you can select Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” at midnight on a Friday, doesn’t mean you should.

This is the danger of today’s digital jukebox: If every jukebox offers essentially infinite choices we run the risk of homogenizing the location music experience (or at least turning the place into some dork’s personal slumber party). Personally, I don’t want someone to be able to play The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” at my favorite watering hole, just like I don’t want to go eat at a Chili’s when I visit Chicago. Homogenization has contributed greatly to the death of terrestrial radio, pushing radio fans toward streaming or satellite and Internet stations in search of variety and a bolder editorial voice. The same thing could happen to jukebox music.

The jukebox has traditionally made a statement about the location. Walking into a joint and finding a lot of Gretchen Wilson and Rascal Flatts on the jukebox is very different from finding the juke packed with show tunes. A good location is a community, and I think a jukebox that’s all things to all people runs counter to that notion. It’s nice to be able to play the Replacements and Wilco at any place I want, but when I find great music waiting for me on the record machine (45s or CDs), that place feels like home.

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Categories: 360 ≥ Words, Blog, Jukebox
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